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Commentary

A brave new city

/ 04:20 AM October 20, 2019

I knew Manila to be a city in decay, wallowing in unending despair, having endured a devastating world war that must have given the city post-traumatic stress disorder. It did not help that the aftermath of the war led to the onslaught of war-stricken Filipinos migrating from the countryside to find opportunities in the country’s capital, only to grapple with the hard truth that the provinces they had left behind were relatively better than the obliterated capital. Thus, war-ravaged Manila, while struggling to get back on its feet, was weighed down further by new challenges.

Some 74 years after the war, the old city looks overwhelmed in trying to grapple with perennial problems: dehumanizing poverty, overpopulation, monstrous traffic, garbage, illegal vendors. And the last few years had only shown that things would continue to worsen.

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Yet, the results of the last local elections seemed to manifest that Manila wants to become a brave new city, one raring to break free from its old problems by waging its fortunes on a new leader: Francisco Domagoso, more popularly known as Isko Moreno.

The first 100 days in office of Mayor Isko look impressive. His achievements tend to make him look like a rock star among media people and netizens, primarily because his actions during his first few months as Manila’s chief executive had attracted a lot of positive media attention. What has he specifically done? He has cleared the roads and streets of illegal vendors. He has intensified regulations against the selling of alcoholic drinks near campuses, and imposed stiff sanctions on underperforming police station chiefs. He has implemented strict curfew hours for the youth to prevent juvenile crimes, and has vowed to expand the existing parks in the city.

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Mayor Isko’s vaunted clearing operations attracted a lot of attention; President Duterte himself must have been inspired by the Manila chief’s efforts that the President commanded Metro Manila mayors to undertake clearing operations in the National Capital Region. The President’s directive galvanized the city mayors, and what followed was a series of clearing operations the magnitude of which had not been seen in many years.

The accomplishments of Mayor Isko so far are admittedly pedestrian. What he has been basically doing in Manila is implementing laws effectively; he has done nothing new or monumental yet. But in a city that has suffered so much for so long, any new development, however small, will be chalked up as an accomplishment.

Mayor Isko’s valiant efforts to revive Manila are indeed laudable. Anyone who has lived or worked in the city in recent years will agree with the blunt description of it as having become “dugyot”—abhorrently dirty and smelly. In the last few years of my work in Manila, walking from LRT Central Station to Intramuros meant getting assaulted by stinking garbage from government trucks parked near the station, to my mind a lasting image of the previous dispensation.

I can only imagine the towering problems being constantly faced by Mayor Isko. The corruption involved in the proliferation of illegal vendors along Manila streets seems systemic and well-entrenched, and it is one issue, I think, that will test the political will, mettle and clean reputation of the mayor in years to come. But he also has a lot going for him, for Manila has much potential to offer that could really propel the city into a brave new world of economic affluence: its geographical location, seaport, rich history and cultural heritage — unique among all the other cities in the metro.

His fans outside Manila could only wish that the mayor and his fellow Manila residents would remain brave and resolute in charting a new course for a long-decaying and much-neglected city.

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James M. Fajarito, Ph.D., is associate professor at Holy Angel University in Angeles City, Pampanga.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Isko Moreno, James M. Fajarito, MANILA
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